North Carolina (3-0) returns to action Monday trying to win the EA Sports Maui Invitational, in which Carolina is 13-2 all-time in the tournament, winning it all in 1999, 2004, and 2008.
Their first test will come against Mississippi State on Monday at 6:00 pm eastern time.
HEELS HEAD TO PARADISE IMPROVING
UNC faced its first true road test Friday night against Long Beach State, in which they were able to win 78-63 in a tough environment.
However, they did not truly gain control of the game until the second half, when the guards were able to knock down some threes to open the lead and they never looked back.
James Michael McAdoo was able to dominate down low for the Heels, doing exactly what he has done so far this season with 18 points.
But the two surprises in the game was the play of Marcus Paige, as he was able to add 15 points and controlled the pace of the game throughout.
The second surprise/confidence boost was how UNC was able to knock down its three-pointers, as they hit 10 of them throughout the game, and especially in the second half to pull away.
Paige, Reggie Bullock, and P.J. Hairston knocked down three each from downtown against Long Beach State.
"I think the second half was a good test. We came out strong, and then they (Long Beach) kind of came back. But in the end, we were just able to rely on our defense and (our) three-point shots were going down. Everything started clicking" McAdoo said after the game on Friday.
After getting the hurdle in Long Beach off its collective back, UNC can now focus on its time in Hawaii, playing some good, solid basketball over three days, and having some fun along the way.
BREAKING DOWN THE BULLDOGS
Mississippi State arrives in Maui coming off a victory against a team that UNC has already played this year. The Bulldogs were able to defeat Florida Atlantic 78-58 last Tuesday just after they were defeated by Troy in the season opener.
MSU will be short on players coming into the tournament, as starting point guard Jalen Steele took a fall midway through the first half against Florida Atlantic and fractured his right wrist, putting the Bulldogs' leading returning scorer on the sidelines for at least six weeks.
This comes shortly after Mississippi State learned that Jacoby Davis and DeAndre Applewhite will be out for the year to repair their torn ACL's and on top of that, the team learned that Colin Borchert was suspended for violating team rules.
This puts a lot of pressure on a Bulldogs squad that has six scholarship players that made the trip to Maui and most of them are newcomers.
This is a team that will have to put together more offense than they have so far this season (averaging 65 points a game so far this year) to keep up with the Tar Heels, and while first year coach Rick Ray already knows they will have a tough test ahead of them, he doesn't want to see his players intimidated or down about its circumstances going up against the Tar Heels.
"I don't want to hear excuses," Ray replied. "I'm trying to instill in our guys that nobody cares about our situation. All anyone cares about are the wins and the losses."
He also had some words about UNC and what his team would be facing in their first round matchup.
"Carolina is never going to change as far as how they push the ball," Ray said. "They're always going to be up-tempo. But we want to play fast, too. It's not a situation where we want to slow it down. Any opportunity we have in transition, we want to take advantage."
Mississippi State will have to be able to score some points in the game to pull off an upset, as UNC's defense has been good so far this year, only giving up 59 points a game.
Defense has keyed UNC's offense so far and once the Heels get out in transition, they are hard to beat.
The Bulldogs will have to figure out a way to slow down McAdoo and limit the Heels on the boards, as they have out-rebounded their opponents in each game so far this season by a whopping margin of plus-17.5 per game.
For MSU, they'd prefer to limit UNC's opportunities for rebounds as much as possible by forcing turnovers on defense, while getting high-percentage shots on offense.
The Bulldogs forced 27 turnovers against Florida Atlantic, so they've shown they're capable of forcing opposing errors.
Coming into the tournament, UNC is 5-0 all-time against Mississippi State, with the last victory coming in Starkville in the 2010 postseason NIT.
The winner of this game will face either Butler or Marquette on Tuesday evening in the semifinals at the Lahaina Civic Center, while the losers from each game will face each other on the other side of the bracket.